Skip to main content
EU Science Hub
News article16 November 2020

Equal access to land cover maps for improved policymaking decisions

A new method for delivering Earth Observation data on land cover can improve decision making for a wide range of industries, research and policy areas.

Egmont National Park
© © European Union 2020

A new method for delivering Earth Observation data on land cover can improve decision making for a wide range of industries, research and policy areas

Employing Earth Observation data to understand land cover prospects and change

Mounting anthropogenic pressure on the Earth’s ecosystems threatens the livelihood of millions of people that depend on healthy ecosystems and crops. This primary sector of the economy interacts directly with land cover through farming, mining, and resource management. Competing demands for land by these industries drive rapid land cover change that can inadvertently damage an ecosystem that they or others depend on.

In order to mitigate rapid land cover change, many industries and governments reference land cover maps to better understand how an area of interest has changed over time. Land cover maps based on satellite data provide a unique perspective on life, resources, and our climate. However, the highly specific needs of governments as well as industries cannot fully benefit from general land cover data.

JRC-led research envisions new delivery method

To address this gap between generic data and dynamic user needs, a research team led by JRC scientists produced recommendations for a new automated system in their recently published article “Addressing the need for improved land cover map products for policy support” (Szantoi et al. 2020). Their research team identified that existing satellites could produce data relevant to more users through a new system that supports on-demand, customized land cover products at various scales. Thier main findings are:

  1. Land cover production systems should evolve towards a consistent system architecture that enables the rapid creation of a range of accurate geospatial products.
  2. Changes to these systems will require coordinated government support through initiatives, such as GEO, that build on the individual efforts of many agencies already working on land cover generation, such as those provided routinely though the Copernicus Programme.
  3. Flexible systems that can generate on-demand products to address users’ specific needs will make land cover maps more accessible and fit-for-purpose to a range of industries and policymakers.

Prerequisites for a flexible system

Land cover processing systems have begun to gradually evolve in this tailor-made direction, yet several challenges prevent current systems from catering to diverse user needs. Perhaps most significantly, users will need high quality reference data for training and validation and even better access to satellite data. Here Szantoi et al. propose the implementation of flexible systems that can generate on-demand products to match users’ specific needs. This would fundamentally change the relationship between users and land cover products.


Publication date
16 November 2020